Search Engineers: Benefits of Travel Search
By Donald R. Smith Executive Vice President, Nor1 Inc. | January 27, 2012
In the 1990s, the growth of online travel sites changed the playing field forever. Over the past decade, hotel marketers were forced to rely on OTAs (online travel agencies) for the bulk of their online bookings. This proved to be a costly channel offering little control over pricing, positioning, inventory management, and yield management.
While most hotel companies had their own Website by the turn of the century, it was not until 2002 that the majority initiated marketing efforts to drive consumers to their Websites. They used best rate guarantee as a carrot and then started purchasing key words on the search engines to drive additional consumers to their sites.
Today, hoteliers with varying Internet experience may certainly attempt to dabble in SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) on their own to increase bookings, but both have costs associated with them. The former does not have a participation cost, but there is still a labor cost associated with the marketing executive hired to manage the program. SEM, on the other hand, can be an expensive and risky venture, and one best managed by an individual well-versed in the metrics and methods. This person should also devote several hours a week - if not daily - on the management of purchasing the keywords from companies such as Yahoo!, MSN, and Google. A positive ROI must be maintained to keep a program like this ongoing. Costs can outweigh benefits if the marketer is not careful.
According to Forrester Research, more than 25 percent of online leisure air travelers researched travel from general search engines like Google in 2006. If a hotel or hotel group decides to market with a search engine by purchasing keywords, it should assume that they are likely competing against major agencies and consolidators for those same keywords, and that only a small percentage of general search engine users will actually reserve a hotel room. In fact, many users will click on the keywords purchased as they research a destination, not having any immediate plans to travel to the locale. For these reasons, hoteliers and hotel group should make it a priority to understand other options available to them - in particular, travel search.
Description of New Options
Travel search is also known as "vertical search" or "metasearch". This technology enables consumers to search and compare travel products from a comprehensive range of partners that include intermediaries like the OTAs and supplier-direct companies (Hilton.com, jetBlue.com). Players in this emerging travel space include the founder of travel search, SideStep, with their initial launch of its downloadable toolbar application in 2000 and the Web site in 2005. Soon after, Mobissimo, Kayak and finally Yahoo! FareChase launched competing Web sites. Alongside the US players that have entered the market, Europe also offers a couple of players in this space, such as Travel Supermarket and Kelkoo.